Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Mindful Monday: Fall to Pieces–On Stigma and Mental Illness

In December, I thought I’d feature a few other voices on Mindful Monday because 1) I don’t want you to get sick of me, and 2) I’m learning so much from other mental health bloggers and authors these days. I want to share their wisdom with you. This is my Advent activity–a way in which I can share the truth in other people’s lives and celebrate the holiness of this season.

mental illness memoir 2.jpg
Today I am featuring an excerpt from the riveting memoir, “Fall to Pieces: A Memoir of Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Mental Illness,” by Mary Forsberg Weiland with Larkin Warren. She writes with candor and humor, and almost anyone can relate to something in her story, because she covers addiction, bipolar disorder, and a rocky love life. I especially liked her paragraphs in the last chapter regarding stigma and the progress we’ve made toward understanding and accepting other biological illnesses–that maybe, in time, persons will even change their perceptions of mental illness. Here’s hoping, anyway.



Statistically, mental illness rarely equals mayhem and murder, especially when it’s diagnosed and treated. Most times, the person whose mind is wracked by the illness is far more frightened (and helpless and vulnerable to someone else’s abuse) than anyone on the outside looking in. The words mental illness carry a terrible weight. Lurid headlines notwithstanding, all schizophrenics do not push people off train platforms into the path of oncoming trains, all manic-depressives do not burn their husbands’ clothing, all addicts do not sleep under bridges or rob little old ladies. It’s a human truth that some people, no matter if their personality types are in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or not, behave badly toward others. But not all of them.


We are capable of social change–we’ve done it before. Three generations ago, a dignified pregnant woman rarely even came out of her house after the fourth or fifth month; in our grandparents’ generation, few people with cancer spoke of their illness, sometimes not even to a family physician. And nobody ever acknowledged, let alone embraced, the family drunk. These days, moms-to-be walk on the beach in bikinis, showing off the baby bumps that celebrate new life. Many cancer survivors who’ve lost hair due to chemo walk baldly and proudly on the street, demonstrating a fierce, defiant courage that humbles the rest of us. Politicians, astronauts, actors, doctors, teachers, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters–these are the people who stand up in twelve-step meetings, struggling to heal and take responsibility for their behaviors and their futures. We’ve worked hard to change our attitudes (with different degrees of success) toward Down syndrome and autistic kids, high-functioning Asperger’s professionals, and people of many different ethnicities and religious beliefs. It might take some longer than others, but people can change their minds about people who have mental illness.


I’m not equating pregnancy or cancer with addiction or bipolar disorder. I’m simply saying that knowledge and empathy can change the way we treat one another. And I’m certainly not asking that everything on television or in the movies be a very special episode in which we are “instructed” in political correctness and the happy ending is wrapped in a big-yellow bow. That would be beyond boring. But in my humble, medicated, therapized opinion, repeatedly flogging (and perpetuating) a stereotype isn’t creative, it’s just lazy. And if you’re on the receiving end of it, it eventually hurts.

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  • Thomas D. Taylor

    A free podcast entitled “Why Is There Autism: A Christian Perspective”
    can be found here:
    If anything will help people understand mental illness, this podcast will.

  • Erika

    This post is extremely relevant to my life at the moment. Last Wednesday I was discharged from my first – and, hopefully, only – hospitalization. While most of the reactions from friends were good, some responded with ignorance and sigma. I felt unprepared for and taken a back by some of their comments. One peer even asked me if I was going to murder him. It stung, a lot.
    Of course, there were humorous comments mixed in with the hurtful. When a friend asked me if they had used an ankle bracelet, for example, I couldn’t help but giggle. Same with the questions about padded rooms and straight jackets. While it is still, of course, sad that people believe these things, it’s nice to find the humor in it all.
    With Love,

  • Melissa

    Perhaps one way to remove the stigma is by means of the stigmatized themselves. I’ve been diagnosed with situational depression, but find that my situation merely hightened my symptoms. The stigma nearly prevented me from getting treatment. In the end, however, I decided for myself that my need for treatment was greater and more important than the stigma, and decided to get that treatment. Part of that decision was that I didn’t have to tell anyone. As for the stigma, I discovered that there was more of a negative approach towards me before I got the help, rather than afterwards, by people who didn’t even know that I had gotten help. My life, and the quality of it, was a thousand times more important to me than the stigma. “Crazy” is Adolf Hitler or Charles Manson. I am not like those people, and I doubt that others with depression are, either.

  • Glenn

    If She is related to Scott Weiland(I believe she is)then she will have many great insights into this problem. Scott Weiland was the lead singer for several major rock groups such as Stone Temple Pilots and most recently Velvet Revolver. He is one of the most self destructive persons I have ever seen, maybe even worse than me!! I too was/am a rock singer who was fortunate enough to be in some of the best bands out there but unfortunate enough to have been so addicted to drugs that most of the time getting them and using them took first place in everything I did. I have lost so many things because of my addictions and my major depression disorder that it would take me all day long to run down the list of just the major ones. I, Thanks to a loving, caring and forgiving God have begun to reclaim my life and have about six years clean now and it has been the best six years I can remember! I only do studio projects now, no more touring etc and work as a Homeless Shelter Coordinator dealing day to day with other recovering addicts and alcoholics. I sure don’t live a glamorous life any longer and I definitly don’t make the kind of money I used to BUT….I AM HAPPY!!!! That means so much more than money or material things. I am so much more spiritual now and therefore I can find happiness in the little things that I didn;t even take time to notice before.

  • Eric Lorentzen

    I find predominantly that family and friends live the stigma. With a few exceptions, those who know me still blame me and believe mental illness is just a lame excuse for character flaws and bad judgment. They feel victimized and bitter. Out of ignorance or denial, they refuse to either learn or acknowledge. I carry the guilt and shame of my behavior, so isolation and deeper symptoms come out of it, tempered by medication.

  • SuzanneWA

    When I was first admitted to a psychiatric ward in a hospital, I was in full-blown, delusional mania. I sincerely BELIEVED in my religious delusions…and nobody could talk me out of them. Then…after being handed my first blue pills, I hid them under my tongue (although I was caught eventually), and ultimately came to the conclusion that I was labeled…mentally ill. This frightened me more than my delusions, that I – a Senatorial secretary and college student – could have a “mental illness.” This was in 1968, before bipolar disorder was even a dream in psychiatrists’ head. I STIGMATIZED myself, and then felt everyone I knew would isolate me, as I had isolated myself. Guilt, recriminations, sorrow, and being scared to death soon followed. As mentioned before, EDUCATION about mental illness is the ONLY way to do away with stigma in the mental health field, and the general populace. I have not had an episode since 1977, though I have been treated out-patient several times. I find that if I am open and honest with even strangers about my bipolar, they accept me for who, and what, I am. Although my early dreams for my life were cut short, I have found a far more spiritual existence that I ever dreamed possible. And…maybe some day…the manic “ax murderer” will go the way of the “do do bird!”

  • Your Name

    Nature or nurture doesn’t matter now. The shame and isolation of major depression and PTSD treated with self medication on to addiction made it all worse and worse and I became a victim of others and then myself. Why I am here is still a mystery, but perhaps I’m here to say that there is hope beyond what one can see from the dark side. From this side, the side in the light, I know now that I tried everything to cover over the depression and sought continued counseling for what I had to varying degrees for 42 years, but it still finally took me to depths not conceivable in the light of day. If you are there, don’t quit, don’t quit, don’t quit. Pray…fall to your knees, cry, hide, but never, never stop trying. Get up again and again until one day…one miraculous day, the storm has passed and walk into the light. For me, the journey is new again and those 10 years of my descent into hell are past. I’m no longer live a life of money or great career success nor do I need to seek small levels of fame to prove my worth. I live at the ocean again. I followed back to my earliest dreams as a girl and the great success and happiness today is in what I’ve always loved most. Full circle from lifes supposed successes, I’ve found more peace and happiness in the simple, and the beauty of nature. No chemicals ever, just for today and working a 12 step program back to health and happiness. I don’t understand the reasons, nor do I really need to figure it all out anymore, but I’m here and alive again…If you are still there..don’t quit, don’t quit, don’t quit…

  • Deborah Glen

    I can relate to all of you dear people. I was first diagnosed with a mental illness around 1970. It was then called Manic/Depression and is now called Bi/Polar. It has been quite a ride for me and my family. My wonderful mom has born a lot of it. I am now married and my lucky husband got to take over. I’m a good person…deeply religious and very concerned with doing the right thing. Even with those qualities, I find myself getting into some pretty major messes from time to time. That is especially painful for someone like myself because doing right is so important to me. When I am not in an episode I am near perfect in my efforts to pay bills on time, etc., but when I am in a manic episode all of that goes out the window. I hate how people judge me…especially the religious community. Here’s hoping things will get better.

  • Jill

    Glenn, you took the words right out of my mouth! When I read this I wondered if she is related to Scott Weiland and I immediately got the Velvet Revolver song “Fall To Pieces” stuck in my head.
    Now I have to go listen to something else to get it out of there lol :)

  • Lisa

    Stigma. Such an ugly word for any ugly act. Stigma.
    stigmatize. Like Deborah, I am almost neurotic when it comes to doing right. However when manic, I am Mrs. Hyde. When depressed I am Mrs. Hide. I am tired of lamenting, crying. yelling, ” I am an educated, intellignet woman!!” who just happens to have a mental illness. I’m tired of trying to break through the crystal ceiling. Remember ladies the glass ceiling? Society that wouldn’t allow women to be all that they could be? Well now we have the crystal ceiling – that says that any person who has a mental illness can’t function. Now that I have my MA am I good enough? When I finish my doctorate will I be good enough then? When will depression stop being the joke of choice?

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